Let’s see. We had thrilling matchups, upsets, an ejection and questions about next week’s rankings.
A typical Saturday in the 2019-2020 season.
3 things from Saturday
Louisville punctuates season with pivotal win at Duke
We can discuss a multitude of moments that unfolded in No. 11 Louisville’s 79-73 win at No. 3 Duke on Saturday. Louisville’s 10-point lead at halftime. Louisville squandering that lead in the second half. Freshman David Johnson, who entered the game averaging 3.7 PPG, dropping 17 points on the Blue Devils in the first half. Rushed, significant shots by Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley down the stretch. Vernon Carey Jr.’s foul trouble and its effect on the outcome. Jordan Nwora‘s struggles (he was 3-for-12) in another big showcase.
But let’s focus on what happened late in the game, when Louisville had all but sealed the win. With eight seconds to play and his team enjoying a seven-point edge, Malik Williams finished a crazy, two-handed dunk over Jack White. It was a ferocious move that highlighted the change in this Louisville team. The group that couldn’t fight back in adverse situations against Kentucky, Florida State and Texas Tech (all losses) refused to wilt at Duke after the Blue Devils turned a 10-point deficit into a tied contest with nearly nine minutes to play.
Heart isn’t everything. But Louisville used it to win a matchup against Duke, its only game against the Blue Devils during the regular season. That win could decide the ACC title.
Yes, Nwora couldn’t find a rhythm. And the Cardinals lost Johnson late to a shoulder injury. Plus, the Blue Devils had momentum. Didn’t matter. Louisville closed the show and put a rocky December behind it to reemerge as one of America’s best teams.
John Calipari’s ejection might have changed the season for Kentucky
Kentucky head coach John Calipari gets ejected after arguing with the officials about a foul call.
There are a number of theories about John Calipari’s late ejection in his team’s 73-66 win at Arkansas. Calipari exploded after a questionable illegal screen call against EJ Montgomery in the second half. He’d been verbally jousting with the officiating crew throughout the game. But he couldn’t contain his emotions after the call.
Was it an intentional act to get his team going? Who knows.
But Kentucky, which had squandered a nine-point lead at halftime, seemed to come alive after Calipari’s ejection and finished with a good road win just days after South Carolina had defeated the Wildcats on a buzzer-beater that capped a 56-point second half for Frank Martin’s team. Arkansas-Kentucky had a deja vu vibe, as Kentucky looked like a team that could lose two in a row before Calipari’s exit.
However, Kentucky played with a fire we hadn’t witnessed in weeks and avoided a two-game losing streak after Calipari’s ejection. Perhaps the Wildcats will take this attitude into the next chapter of the season.
Florida is interesting again
In its lopsided, 69-47 win over Auburn on Saturday, Florida proved it could lock up a team that had looked like an early favorite to win the SEC. But the 47 points Auburn accrued against the Gators, a season low for Bruce Pearl’s team, said more about Florida than it did about Auburn, a team that hadn’t scored a signature victory prior to being humbled in back-to-back double-digit road losses to unranked opponents (Alabama, Florida) this week.
Florida has connected on 38% of its 3-point attempts in SEC play. Although the Gators are no longer the sexy Final Four pick they appeared to be entering the season, they might be Kentucky’s toughest opponent in the conference race. They crushed Auburn even though Andrew Nembhard (six points) had the flu earlier this week and Kerry Blackshear finished 4-for-14. Now, this isn’t a Florida team you should bet on. Yet. But the Gators are definitely interesting again.
3 things for the coming days
Minnesota-Rutgers matters … really
It’s rare to hear that Minnesota and Rutgers, at this stage of the season, are preparing for a meaningful matchup that could have NCAA tournament implications. But that’s the reality for Sunday’s road game for Minnesota, a team that has played its way onto the bubble, and Rutgers, another Big Ten team that has shocked the country after strengthening a résumé that’s anchored by wins over Wisconsin, Seton Hall and Penn State. Minnesota and Rutgers entered Sunday’s matchup ranked No. 40 and No. 22, respectively, in the latest NET rankings. Minnesota is a 12-seed while Rutgers is an 8-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology. Geo Baker (11.1 PPG, 4.0 APG) and Daniel Oturu (20.3 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.8 BPG) are two of the best players in the country. This is a good matchup.
West Virginia and Texas looking to boost spirits, résumés
Saturday was a tough day for Texas and West Virginia. Texas, a team with a résumé that’s stamped by a series of sub-100 wins and a victory at Purdue, squandered a five-point lead at halftime and lost a winnable game to Kansas in Austin. West Virginia, a top-15 squad that had lost just one game since Dec. 7, got stomped by double digits at Kansas State. They’ll meet Monday in Morgantown. Texas is more desperate for a quality win. But West Virginia doesn’t want to take a third Big 12 loss into late January as it pursues the league crown.
Baylor looks to extend streak
There were multiple moments in Baylor’s 75-68 win over Oklahoma State when everything seemed to go against the Bears. They weren’t making shots. Oklahoma State had made 57% of its 3-point attempts in the first half. After halftime, however, Baylor, which hasn’t lost in more than two months, settled down and took control, ending the win with a 1.14 points-per-possession clip. More than anything, Monday’s home game against Oklahoma is another chance for Baylor’s offense to find an early rhythm, something it will have to do if it intends to reach its ceiling in March.